From Publishers Weekly
Epic in scope, Mayo's impressively researched novel set in mid-19th century Mexico City mines the true story of the short turbulent reign of the archduke of Austria, Maximilian von Hapsburg, who was made emperor of Mexico in 1864. Childless and desperate for an heir, the emperor makes substantial monetary promises to the parents of a young boy named Agustin. With much trepidation, they agree to give over the boy, who becomes a pawn in a custody battle that begins when Maximilian adopts the two-year-old Agustin with the hopes of having him inherit the throne. Agustin's American mother, Madame de Iturbide (née Alice Green), soon becomes dissatisfied with the arrangement and pleads with Maximilian to return her son. Maximilian has Alice deported, which sets off an international brawl. Maximilian finally concedes as Mexico devolves into bankruptcy and lawlessness and Maximilian's wife, Carlota, becomes increasingly unmoored. Lengthy, expository, meandering and grandiose, Mayo's reanimation of a crucial period in Mexican history should satisfy history buffs and those in the mood for an engaging story brimming with majestic ambition. (May)
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Mayo resurrects a sad story from the footnotes of history and embroiders the few details known about it into a rich historical novel. By the 1860s, Mexico, although independent from Spain, was in political, social, and financial disarray. Taking advantage of the country’s weakness, France’s emperor, Napoléon III, sent an occupying force to Mexico and installed as puppet ruler the easily manipulated Austrian archduke Maximilian, brother of the Austrian emperor. This novel follows Maximilian’s short-lived career as the unfortunate emperor of Mexico, focusing specifically on the half-Mexican, half-American boy the childless emperor and empress adopted as heir. The cast is large, nearly to the point of confusion, and the narrative suffers from overtelling at the expense of showing, but for the most part, Mayo comfortably blends fiction with fact while illuminating a dark corner of North American history. --Brad Hooper